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Why winemaker of Dom Pérignon Champagne loves South Africa

Why winemaker of Dom Pérignon Champagne loves South Africa

Jul 2013

By Sasha van Zyl

“A triple espresso and a croissant please” is the breakfast order I hear coming from the next room as I walk into the luxurious lounge of Ellerman House in Bantry Bay. I smile to myself. This order could have come from none other than Richard Geoffroy, Chef de Cave (or cellarmaster) for Dom Pérignon, one of the world’s most sought after Champagnes. Richard has ordered the French breakfast of champions. And a champion he is.


Possessing that distinctive natural French charm, he introduces himself as “Re-chaaard” (which makes me a little giggly, as what girl doesn’t love the French accent). Immediately at ease, I’m ready to interview one of the world’s greatest wine icons. Sating my own interests first I’m dying to find out what he thinks of South Africa. The reviews I hear make me feel like a proud parent. After being in South Africa for only a day, Richard is blown away by our people and talks of our sense of “caring, generosity, empathy and warmth”. His mission while here? To discover South African people and culture through food and wine (our best, of course).


Before I get carried away, let’s start at the beginning: who is Richard Geoffroy and how did he come to be one of the greatest winemakers the world has seen?

It’s not a conventional background he tells us, although he was born into a long line of Champagne winemakers (7 generations in fact), so it’s fair to say this was a career he was predestined to. However, rebelling as a teenager Richard decided to study medicine instead.  On completion of his degree, eight years older and much wiser, he found that he did in fact have a deep love for winemaking and took up his second degree which enabled this passion. After a short stint in California he found himself at Dom Pérignon, a whopping 23 years ago! And the rest, they say, is history, or rather, history in the making.


Richard talks highly of French Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon, who according to popular myth, is credited with creating sparkling wine when he was overheard saying “Come quick, for I am drinking the stars”. He may not have been the first to invent Method Champenoise but he was a pioneer in transforming Champagne from a red wine producing region to the sparkling white wine region. As you may have guessed, Dom Pérignon Champagne is named after him. Richard has a high respect for tradition and draws a lot of inspiration from Pierre Pérignon, following in his footsteps in leading the industry.


Dom Pérignon Champagne has been served at some of the world’s most lavish parties and exclusive soirées. With the flawless Champagne that’s been coming out of the cellar in Epernay for close on a century, it’s no wonder. Vintage is everything for Dom Pérignon: it’s how they’ve ensured the consistent quality of wine they release. The following video explains exactly why vintage is at the core of the Dom Perignon brand:

Dom Pérignon has been releasing vintages more frequently since the turn of the 21st century. How they’ve been afforded this opportunity is up for debate. However, Richard does have some interesting thoughts on the impact of climate change and the need for organic farming:

A lifelong dedication to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes has made Richard a huge fan of both varieties and ensures he always enjoys them when they cross his path. Watch this video to find out what Richard enjoys drinking when he’s not lapping up the splendours of his labour. He also tells us which vintage we MUST try in our lifetime:


During the interview I had my first taste of Dom Pérignon, the 2004 vintage, only released in May 2013. If I could compare my experience with Dom Pérignon Champagne to anything, it’d be like falling in love with your best friend. You’re expecting to like the wine, and you do. But you’re in for more than you bargained for. As time passes, a multitude of characteristics you hadn’t noticed before are revealed and before you know it, you’ve fallen head-over-heals in love. Time is of the essence when savouring Dom Perignon, if you rush it you might never get the chance to fall in love.

What does it actually taste like though? On the nose, aromas of almond and powdered cocoa develop gradually into white fruit with hints of dried flowers. Classic toasted notes give a rounded finish and denote a fully realized maturity. On the palate, the wine instantly traces an astoundingly fine line between density and weightlessness. The full taste lingers with the utmost elegance on a sappy, spicy note.


Society has put Champagne in a strict box when it comes to how one should be serving it. Richard enlightens us about the most important factors that come into play when serving Champagne:

Can’t get enough? Visit Dom Pérignon’s website for more

Also see the video interview


Source: Winemag